Students enrolled in colleges and universities across the United States will be informed upon matriculation that all aspects of campus life are governed by the institution's code of conduct. Sometimes called an honor code or student handbook, the set of rules and regulations is the foundation of a school's sound learning environment. Although the code of conduct may not have the same legal ramifications as state or federal law, violations can quickly become a reason for removal.
With years of rigorous academia and the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars dedicated to obtaining a four-year degree, students must act cautiously in campus ventures. The days of stern lectures from deans to redress misconduct are in the past. With pressure from the public to maintain an excellent reputation and the various requirements to procure government funding streams, zero-tolerance disciplinary policies are near-universal. Frequently, students are unaware of the severity of how code of conduct violations are handled. Schools have the freedom to create their own judicial practices, including standards of due process that are less protective of students than they would be given in municipal court.
Because of the often-vague definitions and thresholds given to the mechanisms of the grievance process, things like disorderly conduct can lead to a suspension or expulsion. While students may believe such misconduct is no big deal, the consequences of sanctions can derail an academic career and even become obstacles to gaining employment upon graduation.
What Is Disorderly Conduct?
Disorderly conduct is a generalized form of non-academic misconduct committed on or off campus. There is no clear definition nationwide, and schools will outline what constitutes disorderly conduct in their guidelines covering student behavior.
For example, New York University (NYU) defines disorderly conduct as:
- Disorderly, disruptive, or antagonizing behavior that impedes upon the safety, security, health, or welfare of the campus community, or the university's regular operation
- Behaviors that—due to their intensity or repetitiveness—interfere with an academic activity
NYU states that academic activities may include time in the classroom, periods of online learning, advising sessions, or workshop. Disorderly conduct includes but is not limited to:
- Repeatedly speaking in class without recognition from the instructor
- Creating noise that obstructs the learning process for others
- The use of traditional tobacco products, electronic nicotine devices, or other prohibited substances
- Persistently interrupting others
- Committing other actions that unreasonably and illegitimately distract from or obstruct the educational experience
The University of Colorado explains disorderly conduct can include violations far more serious than class disruption. The school states that the following are considered disorderly conduct:
- Disregarding campus community member rights
- Threatening behaviors in any medium of communication
- Sexual harassment
At the University of California—Los Angeles, definitions are indistinct. Their code of conduct details that disorderly conduct means students "engaging in disorderly or lewd conduct."
How Do Schools Address Disorderly Conduct?
Many schools will have different processes to handle discipline for academic, behavioral, or Title IX violations. Grievance procedures can be as different from school to school as the definition of disorderly conduct. For example, while each school will have an investigation, hearing, and appeals stage, the timeframes to satisfy them will vary by institution.
For instance, the University of Maryland uses the following methods to address disorderly conduct:
Upon receiving knowledge of alleged disorderly conduct, the Office of Student Conduct (OSC) or the Office of Rights & Responsibilities (ORR) will investigate to establish reasonable cause. Afterward, they will contact the accused student (respondent) and request they attend a preliminary interview. Although the allegations are reviewed, and the alleged incident may be discussed, the respondent is under no obligation to divulge information.
Respondents can resolve the matter informally and opt for a disciplinary conference with the OSC Director. However, they will waive their right to an appeal. In cases where sanctions leading to a separation of studies are not possible, students are not afforded the right to a hearing before the Student Conduct Board (SCB).
All SCB hearings are facilitated by a non-voting Presiding Officer, whose role is to control the proceedings for time management and orderly completion. The following procedural guidelines will be used:
- Written notice of the hearing date is provided to the respondent five business days before the hearing.
- No later than two business days before the hearing, any party may challenge SCB members based on a potential conflict of interest.
- The accuser (complainant) and respondent may provide an opening statement to the SCB.
- The SCB will hear testimony from both parties and any applicable witnesses.
- Both parties will be granted the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses.
- The SCB may institute further questioning.
- The complainant and respondent may make a closing statement.
The SCB will make a determination based on the preponderance of the evidence standard, meaning it is more likely than not that the respondent is responsible for the alleged misconduct.
Depending on the disorderly conduct, colleges and universities have a long list of sanctions they may impose. While many may be temporary or seem modest, each can wreak havoc on a student's chances of applying or graduate school or applying for a highly sought-after career. At the University of Washington, sanctions for disorderly conduct may include:
- Written or verbal reprimand
- Disciplinary probation
- Loss of student or leadership privileges
How Can a Student Defense Advisor Help?
Although some colleges may not permit outside representation in a disciplinary board hearing, hiring a professional student defense advisor will ensure you have the best chance of remaining intact with your studies. A student defense advisor can coach you to provide a solid argument for your defense and become a much-needed barrier against burdensome school administration officials.
Joseph D. Lento has assisted countless students across the United States, defending them against excessive punishments from disorderly conduct allegations. Over the years, he and his team at the Lento Law Firm have developed beneficial relationships with many representatives of schools' Office of General Counsel, meaning he can broker resolutions on students' behalf outside formal proceedings. For expert advice, call 888-535-3686 or use the online consultation form.